Homes and shops burned down as reprisal for IRA ambush
1 January 1921
At about 2 pm on New Years Day 1921, several lorry loads of British soldiers and Royal Irish Constabularly disembarked in the town centre of Midleton in County Cork. They handed out notices to three residents in Midleton’s Main Street and four residents in the neighbouring villages of Ballyadam and Knockgriffin, ‘giving them one hour to clear out valuables (from their homes), but not furniture.’ They also stopped and searched everyone on the street and ordered them to stay inside and to pull down their window blinds.1
Later, the British Army’s headquarters in Cork explained that ‘it was decided by the Military Governor that certain houses in the vicinity of (an IRA ambush three days earlier) were to be destroyed, as the inhabitants were bound to have known of the ambush and attack, and that they had neglected to give any information, either to the military or police authorities.’ The reprisals would serve as a warning to the population ‘that an attitude of neutrality is inconsistent with loyalty and will render them liable to punishment.’2
At about 3 pm, the residents, not daring to look out of their windows, heard the sound of doors being battered down and windows broken, followed by explosions. The Freeman’s Journal reported that ‘the people remained within doors during what proved to be a terrifying night, and it was only (the next) morning they learned of the destruction that had been wrought.’3 Three houses along Main Street belonging to John O’Shea, the chairman of Middleton’s Board of Governors, Edward Grey, chairman of Midleton Council and Paul McCarthy, another village resident, had all been completely wrecked along with several shops, the contents of which had been looted.4
Two hundred yards further down the road, a large garage and engineering workshop, which according to The Graphic ‘had not been included in the official list of reprisals,’ had been burned to the ground.5 The neighbouring building belonging to the Munster and Leinster Bank had been narrowly saved by the Cork Fire Brigade. Several houses, also not on the list, had been burned out in the nearby village of Carrigtwohill, as well as the homes of the families which had been designated for punitive destruction at Ballyadam and Knockgriffin.6 The Daily Express explained that the measures were in accordance with martial law in County Cork, adding ‘it is legal and disciplined. It is, we must believe, necessary but it is horrible.’7
- ‘The Midleton Ambush,’ The Scotsman, 3 January 1921, p. 5 and ‘Reprisals Avowed,’ The Western Daily Press, 3 January 1921, p. 8.
- ‘Houses Fired: Destruction Ordered by Military Governor,’ The Lancashire Evening Post, 3 January 1921, p. 2.
- ‘Unknown Man Found Shot,’ The Freeman’s Journal, 3 January 1921, p. 5.
- ‘The Middleton Ambush,’ The Scotsman, 3 January 1921, p. 5 and ‘Reprisals Avowed,’ The Western Daily Press, 3 January 1921, p. 8.
- ‘Where There is no Peace and Goodwill: The First Official Reprisals in Ireland,’ The Graphic, 8 January 1921, p. 37.
- ‘Unknown Man Found Shot,’ The Freeman’s Journal, 3 January 1921, p. 5 and ‘Houses Fired: Destruction Ordered by Military Governor,’ The Lancashire Evening Post, 3 January 1921, p. 2.
- The Daily Express cited in ‘It is Horrible,’ The Dublin Evening Telegraph, 3 January 1921, p. 3.
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